Triathlon: New generation finds new attraction: Young and old make their way to Windsor. Mike Rowbottom reports

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The Independent Online
THE Thames, running softly past Windsor, was disturbed by the churning of 747 pairs of feet yesterday. For a couple of hours, a section of the river was closed to all but swans, flustered ducks, safety attendants and the main mass of competitors in the Matol Royal Windsor Triathlon.

All those swimming, then cycling, then running in what is the second largest event in the British grand prix had come through a stern tripartite challenge at the registration area.

'Wrist band on your wrists,' shouted the lady with the clipboard. 'White numbers on your bikes or you won't get them back again. Crash helmets out ready to be checked.' Come on] Where have you been]' Thereafter, the demands of the event appeared relatively straighforward.

The triathlon has broadened its appeal from the masochistic origins of its most famous event, the Hawaii Ironman, which comprises a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a concluding marathon. Yesterday's competitors, ranging in age from 14 to 79 and including 150 women, had a choice of the Olympic event (1500m swim, 40km ride, 10km run) or the Sprint (750m, 20km and 5km).

That kind of flexibility has helped draw in bored swimmers and stressed-out runners as the event has taken hold domestically within the last 12 years. The British Triathlon Association, established in 1984, has a core of 3,500 members, but there are an estimated 15,000 occasional competitors.

Neil Thomas, a 15-year-old from the Rhondda in South Wales, is one of the new generation which is taking to the event. He turned to the sport because he was not tall enough to progress as a swimmer after winning medals at the Welsh Championships.

Neil's father David, a site engineer, has already invested pounds 1,200 in a bike for his son. The Thomas family had driven up the previous night with their caravan. 'I find it very time-consuming and very costly,' David said. 'But he enjoys it and it gives him a better life.'

As Danny Ashley, working at one of the equipment stalls, can attest, there are innumerable items for the serious triathlete to spend money on. Oakley's - all in one, deep tinted sunglasses of a type to leave Raymond Illingworth apoplectic, are de rigueur. And expensive. The top of the range ones cost pounds 180, and are, Ashley advises, too brittle to be worn in competition itself. 'There are a lot of posers about,' he says with a grin.

Steve Burton, a former Southern cross-country champion, managed to win the elite event without the aid of sunglasses. After a year out with post-viral syndrome, he is making a successful comeback - triathlon's Roger Black.

An elderly figure made his way through the picknicking families by the finish area. He looked frail, but appearances can be


This was one of the event's celebrated figures, Patrick Barnes. At the age of 79, he has completed more than 60 triathlons or biathlons since he took up the sport 10 years ago. 'I just love the event,' he said. 'When I get out on the bike, with very little on, and I can feel the wind around me, I think: this is life, and I am living it.'

(Photograph omitted)